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What is Asia?

Happy Family Night Market


Tavleen Tarrant and Shakeeb Asrar

24 min., 2022, United States, color, digital video & animation Languages: Dari, English

After fleeing the Taliban, three Afghan refugees move to the US but find themselves in limbo on a temporary legal status, uncertain about their future.

In 2021, when the United States announced it would withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, it promised to take along all the Afghans who had worked with the US government or military. An operation called “Allies Welcome” was created to provide vulnerable Afghan allies, who were under direct threat from the Taliban, a pathway to seek safety in America and make it their new home.

Fatima Faizi, Hamed Ahmadi, and Yasser Arwand are three young Afghans among the 80,000 people evacuated by the US army under this program. All three had to flee Kabul with a backpack, leaving their families behind. 

However, nearly two years after being in the US, Fatima, Hamed, and Yasser are struggling to call America home. Humanitarian parole, a temporary legal status assigned to these Afghans upon entering the US, is set to expire in August 2023, after which they fear the possibility of being deported back to Afghanistan. All three have applied for asylum, but it could take months, if not years, for them to get an answer from the overburdened asylum system. 

This film documents the mental turmoil that comes from a lack of permanence abroad and a fractured homeland you can’t return to. It follows Fatima, Hamed, and Yasser through their first year of resettlement in the US—from finding housing and seeking employment to navigating their legal options to remain in the US. We follow their journey as they settle into everyday American life—grocery shopping, exploring their new cities, and their first Fourth of July, all whilst remaining in fear about the safety of their family and friends back home in Afghanistan. 

We also contrast these Afghans’ journeys in the wider socio-political landscape. Beginning 2022, as the world’s attention shifts to Ukrainian refugees, these Afghans feel abandoned by the US, which passed several bills to support Ukrainians fleeing war but never voted on a proposed bill granting permanent residency to Afghan allies. 

Many refugee stories involve using their precarious conditions to elicit empathy from viewers. This film intends to counter that narrative by highlighting refugees who are not “uncivilized”, but rather educated, skilled, and self-sufficient. Yet, our characters are prevented from being integrated into American society because of legal hurdles associated with their temporary parole status and the stereotypes often raised against refugees. 

This vérité film is a story of migration, hope, and loss. It weaves animation, archival and documentary footage to capture the story of three young people trying to build a home away from a home that cannot be returned to. It also puts a human face to the consequences of America’s longest, and perhaps most complicated, war.

Shakeeb Asrar is a multimedia journalist and documentary filmmaker. He was previously with Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and has also received reporting grants from the Pulitzer Center and South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA). Asrar holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and master's in documentary filmmaking from Columbia University. He is passionate about covering stories from the global South, with a focus on human rights, migration, and social justice.

Tavleen Tarrant is a social newsgathering reporter at NBC News who previously worked at CNN on breaking news in the Northeastern US. A graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism’s Documentary program, Tarrant is passionate about feminism, politics, social justice and activism, and the international political economy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Social Sciences in International Relations from the University of New South Wales and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and International Relations from the University of Queensland.


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